Kanye stages a beautiful, dark, fantastic comeback
Yesterday afternoon, Kanye West put an emphatic punctuation mark on one of the most rapturous comebacks the music industry has ever seen.
Performing to in excess of 100,000 spectators at the Coachella Festival—and millions more worldwide, thanks to a generous and remarkable live YouTube stream—West’s finale was as fantastical as it was endearing.
Though West often describes himself as a designer—of music, of fashion, of aesthetic—yesterday he proved himself, more than anything, a curator. A man of impossibly varied influence and complexities. And he couldn’t have crafted a more grandiose stage to celebrate the completion of a fascinating, awkward, gritty metamorphosis.
After losing his mother to surgical complications in late 2007, then ending his 18-month engagement with fiancée Alexis Phifer, the innovative, widely-lauded hip-hop phenomenon recessed away from the public.
Kanye then spent just three weeks recording his encounter with loneliness and success and longing, 808s and Heartbreak—a dramatic and melancholic departure from the elated beats that won him hearts as a producer and artist.
Then came the agonising denouement: his mystifying humiliation of Taylor Swift. ‘Kanye,’ Ethiopian for ‘The Only One,’ was an apt title—as few others were conceivably capable of such perplexing behaviour. The incident was a catalyst for innumerable temporary egos.
There was Kanye-and-his-bewildered-confusion. Kanye-and-his-half-assed-apologies. Kanye-vanishes-for-a-year. Kanye-gets-Twitter. Kanye-nearly-breaks-said-Twitter.
2010, though, was a year of penance and recuperation. And with it, (gloriously) spawned My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—a genre-bending, industry-redefining opus that was received to universal acclaim. This was an LP that rendered everything before it mere footnotes in Kanye’s soundscape. The album resulted in a rare coming together of the Rolling Stones, Pitchforks and XXLs of the world, their collective pretence humbled by perfect scores.
West claimed that his album was written to be performed at Coachella—and, to the millions watching worldwide, these were the songs and performances that gift festivals like Coachella their immortal status.
West’s set verged on augmented reality, deftly blurring the lines between pop, hip-hop, rock, fashion and performance art. This was a 98-minute toast to everything Kanye was, everything he dreamt of being, everything he feared becoming—the brash, the ecstatic, the completely-and-utterly-goddamn vulnerable. The emphatically embraced.
This was one of those few concert experiences whose ecstatic heights are damn near impossible to convey to the passive ear. Shows with more technical prowess are performed on a nightly basis.
Headliners closing music festivals to rapturous audiences is nothing new. Hell, the guy was out of key in the majority of his attempts to sing. Often shockingly so. But this wasn’t about Kanye’s pitch—it was the inflection and conviction behind his warbles. The magic wasn’t in the crowd at Coachella—it was knowing that millions around the world were perched at their desks, witnessing Kanye, witnessing the Only One.
There he was, exposed to the world. Coming completely clean.
Buried amongst the ovation and lights and hype and exquisite dancers, though, was a remarkably subdued man. In fact, he barely said a thing all night. Yes, West’s persona hit all the right highs and lows, purveying everything we can believe he is: cocky, brash, conceited, unashamed, unrestrained, an all-imagining, all-realising monster.
But the real Kanye West presented himself for a single moment. Only exposed himself for an instant. “This is the most important show to me since my mum passed,” he murmured before the third act.
To be able to close the festival and see all of you that still love me…to have this moment is so unbelievable. You make it all so worth it.
At his root, this global purveyor of cheek, cockiness and attitude, still hasn’t left behind the memories of his late mother. As he has in countless performances since her death, he closed out the show with “Hey Mama”: an ode to broken promises and undying gratitude: “Hey Mama, I know I played the fool/But I promise you I’m going back to school/I appreciate what you allowed for me/I just want you to be proud of me,” he rings out in the last strains of the festival.
The music cuts, and, in as intimate a moment as a 200,000 person music festival can have, Kanye West hesitates silently into the microphone. He steps back with a smile and shuffles off his stage—humbled at last.
Adam tweets @ads_b.
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